Smart concert programming always takes the audience into account. That’s what Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra music director Daniel Meyer did when planning the special nature of the ensemble’s next concert.
“We wanted a program that is immediately accessible, straight up the middle, because we know we get a lot of first-time symphony goers on Valentine’s Weekend,” he says.
Meyer will conduct the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra with solo violinist Chee-Yun on Feb. 16 in The Palace Theatre, Greensburg. The program is Bela Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4.
The starting point for the concert was the Tchaikovsky concerto.
“I’ve wanted to invite Chee-Yun to play with the Westmoreland Symphony for years,” says Meyers.
The violinist was a prodigy in her native South Korea and came to the United States at 13 to study at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City, where her teachers included the legendary Dorothy Delay. She gone’s on to have an excellent career, including a substantial discography.
The combination of melodic inspiration with irresistible Russian folk music influences make Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto one of the most popular of any era, but it had a difficult beginning. He wrote it in 1878 after a very brief marriage to Antonina Milyukova so disastrous that he attempted suicide.
Tchaikovsky escaped by traveling to Western Europe where, freed from the emotional burdens of a big mistake, his inspiration flowed freely and he was able to complete the score in a matter of weeks.
Meyer decided to conclude the concert with Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, remembering English composer Edward Elgar’s comment that there’s nothing better than a Beethoven slow movement.
Beethoven’s odd-number symphonies tend to be larger and more heroic than the even-numbered ones. Beethoven’s Fourth is filled with wit and energy, and features a sublime slow movement.
Beethoven rarely gave any indication of what his music is about, but the legendary conductor Carlos Kleiber once tried a novel approach in rehearsal of music that might be considered a love song. Kleiber asked the violins playing a two-note accompaniment figure to shape it as though saying the name Therese (the “h” is silent).
Beethoven was seriously in love with Therese Brunswick. She may even have been the one he referred to as his “immortal beloved.” After one measure of murmuring her name, the glorious melody arrives, expressing how Beethoven felt about her in this interpretation.
The concert will open with Bela Bartok’s Rumanian Folk Dances, an early work reflecting his fascination with folk music.
Bartok and fellow Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly were pioneering ethnomusicologists. They lugged a heavy recording machine, long before digital, tape or even electrical recording, into the countryside to capture authentic folk music, later transcribing the music into written notation.
The six dances are colorful and lively. The concluding number is a courting dance.
Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contribution writer.